Portland’s dance floor has long been crowded with big names like Oregon Ballet Theatre, BodyVox, and Polaris, among others, all offering shows and seasons for the city’s dance fans. But even if it feels like Stumptown’s got a full dance card, PDX Contemporary Ballet is betting audiences have room for something new.
The new company, whose first full season kicks off this week with Incipio, was founded by Briley Neugebauer in August 2015. Working with refugee dancers from the then-recently imploded Moxie Contemporary Ballet—which suddenly closed its doors after an ugly financial scandal in 2015—PDX Contemporary Ballet put on Metamorphosis at the Alberta Abbey last February. Neugebauer, who was Moxie’s rehearsal director, is looking to open a new chapter in her new venture.
“Our season is called Prologue to a Memoire,” she says. “Last year was, ‘How do we hold on to this?’ And this year is the start of something I want to last a very long time. So it’s a prologue to a very long book.”
Neugebauer is working with a group of seven dancers—some from as far away as Louisiana—to create a company dedicated to a contemporary style of ballet. “The contemporary is a little more earthy and grounded, maybe more modern dance,” Neugebauer says. “What I like to do is take that [modern dance] style and put pointe shoes on it.”
Neugebauer, 27, is also quick to acknowledge PDX Contemporary Ballet is not the only game in town—in fact, she’s glad to have important organizations like OBT and BodyVox around—but she’s determined to make her own mark, and that means a break from the leotards and tutus of traditional ballet.
Incipio, which will be performed in the round, gives audiences a whole different view on the dancers. “One thing that is taught in the ballet and the contemporary world is that when you’re choreographing, you never turn your back to the audience,” Neugebauer says. “In the round, though, no matter what, someone’s back is going to be to the audience.”
At this stage, PDX Contemporary Ballet is more concerned with getting the word out about their company and season. Still, the search for a permanent venue means they're keeping a wary eye on the future. Small spaces are at a premium in booming Portland, as arts organizations compete for the dwindling number of venues. Yet for Neugebauer, the space is integral to her vision for the performance.
“Briley’s vision of dance is, instead of the dancers here and the audience there, there is more intermingling,” says PDX Contemporary Ballet board member Kim Norris. “Everything we are doing this year has the audience right there, so they can feel more involved and intimate.”
Incipio runs October 28–30 at N.E.W. Expressive Works.